The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Steve Kurr talks about his new work celebrating Middleton that will be premiered Wednesday night by the Middleton Community Orchestra alongside Mozart and Dvorak

October 8, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Wednesday night, Oct. 9, the mostly amateur but highly praised Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will open its 10th anniversary season, which is dedicated to retired critic John W. Barker for his help in championing the ensemble.

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. in the comfortable and acoustically excellent Middleton Performing Arts Center (below, in a photo by Brian Ruppert), which is attached to Middleton High School, 2100 Bristol Street.

Admission is $15 for the public, free for students. Tickets are available from the Willy Street Coop West and at the door. The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. Auditorium doors open at 7 p.m. 

The appealing program features J.J. Koh (below), principal clarinet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, as guest soloist in the beautiful and poignant Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the sublime slow movement, which may sound familiar from when it was used in the soundtrack to the film “Out of Africa.”)

Also on the program is the popular Symphony No. 9 – “From the New World” – by Antonin Dvorak.

But raising the curtain will be the world premiere of a work that was written specifically for this orchestra on this occasion in its own city.

The piece was composed by Steve Kurr, who teaches at Middleton High School and who is the resident conductor of the MCO.

For more information about the MCO’s season along with critical reviews and information about how to join it or support it and how to enter its new youth concerto competition, go to:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Kurr, below, will conduct the premiere of his own work, which he recently discussed via email with The Ear:

How much do you compose and why do you compose?

When I do compose, which is not often, it is usually with a specific event in mind. I have written several things for the musicians at Middleton High School, including a four-movement string symphony, a piece for a retiring colleague, and several works we have taken on tour.

In this case, the 10th season of the Middleton Community Orchestra provided a great reason to write. I always enjoy the process, but it can be time-consuming, so I don’t do it as often as I might like.

How does composing fit in with your teaching and conducting?

Most of the composing I do comes in the summer because it is when I can devote larger chunks of time. This new work was germinating in some form for several years, but almost all of the notes-on-the-page work came this past June.

How do you compose?

I approach composition in an analytical way, which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. I think about structure early on in the process, both at the full work scale and in the smaller sections.

Most of my work comes on the computer in the notation software Finale, and some comes on the piano or on a string instrument.

I run ideas past my wife Nancy for her input and for this piece I also got a huge amount of advice and help from composer and MCO violist Neb Macura (below). (Thanks, Neb! You were invaluable!) Most of the melodic material came to me in the car on the way to school.

How would you describe your musical or tonal style?

I would say that my style is mostly tonal and not all that adventurous in terms of harmony. The fact that I have spent much of my musical career studying the works of the Classical and Romantic periods shows through. And yet you might find some moments that hint at more recent styles.

Can you briefly tell the public about the new piece to be premiered?

“Good Neighbors” is subtitled “Episodes for Orchestra” and the connected episodes describe various aspects of the Middleton community.

Episode 1 depicts the city of Middleton and its bustling energy within a small town feel. Episode 2 is about all of the water around, including the creeks, ponds and Lake Mendota. Episode 3 is the Good Neighbor Festival, appearing at the end of summer for so many years. Episode 4 describes the land around, including the rolling farmland, the driftless area, and the Ice Age Trail.

The final episode brings together tunes from the previous four, combining them to demonstrate that the Good Neighbor City is more than the sum of its parts. The opening theme shows up in several different versions throughout, including most notably the theme from Episode 4.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

At first I considered the endeavor almost self-indulgent as I set a piece of my own in front of the ensemble. Then I started to feel presumptuous. It is a humbling experience to see my name on a program with Mozart and Dvorak, two of my favorite composers.

It has been a terrific experience working with these fine musicians as we realize this new work together. My thanks go to them for their willingness to help me present this gift to the Middleton community.


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Classical music: A NEW summer concert series of chamber music in Allen Centennial Garden starts this coming Sunday afternoon

June 21, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement:

This coming Sunday, June 26, kicks off the inaugural season of “Summer Sundays in the Garden: Afternoon Concerts in the English Garden,” a new outdoor concert series, FREE and open to the public.

It will feature local classical and jazz musicians in the inspiring natural setting of the stately English Garden at Allen Centennial Garden at 620 Babcock Drive, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the heart of Madison.

Summer Sundays Concerts in the Garden 1

The concerts will take place on every other Sunday through Sept. 18 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. They are sponsored by the Friends of Allen Centennial Garden.

Attendees are encouraged to bring a blanket or lawn chair for these free concerts.

Families are welcome.

Established in 1989, Allen Centennial Garden is situated on 2.5 acres surrounding the historic landmarked “Dean’s Residence (below),” adjacent to the Lake Mendota Lakeshore Nature Preserve and path.

Summer Sundays Concerts in the Garden Deans; House 2

This public botanical garden is open to the public free of charge 365 days a year, dawn to dusk.

Although located on the UW-Madison campus, the garden is supported entirely by private funds. In 2013, the Friends of Allen Garden formed to enhance the educational and cultural mission of the gardens and to increase awareness of this “hidden gem” by expanding programming initiatives to better serve the public.

Summer Sundays Concerts in the Garden 3

Summer Sundays in the Garden, one of many programs developed by the Friends, is the first public concert series at Allen Centennial Gardens, now in its 26th year.

Sponsored by the Friends, the series is supported by grants from the Madison Arts Commission, with additional support from the Wisconsin Arts Board; from Dane Arts, with funds from the Overture Foundation and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation; and from the Evjue Foundation of The Capital Times. In the event of inclement weather, concerts will be cancelled.

For more information, please visit www.allencentennialgarden.org

Summer Sundays Concerts in the Garden 4

Summer Sundays in the Garden. Afternoon Concerts in the English Garden. June 26 – Sept. 18. 4–5:30 p.m.

June 26 – Johannes Wallmann’s Quartet West. Known as a “remarkable pianist and composer” (Downbeat Magazine) and “a truly international kind of cat” (Midwest Record), Johannes Wallmann, Director of Jazz Studies at UW-Madison, opens SUMMER SUNDAYS with a quartet of top-notch guest artists from Los Angeles and San Francisco to offer up a high-energy, imaginative, and infectious kickoff for the new summer concert series.

July 10 – Quartessence (below). One of Madison’s most often heard society quartets, award-winning Quartessence String Quartet brings a stylish sophistication to a wide range of repertoire including jazz, golden oldies, and imaginative covers of current rock and pop hits, from Bach to the Beatles, Puccini to Pops, Classics to Covers.

Quartessence string quartet

July 24  – Doug Brown Group. Acoustic jazz guitarist Doug Brown brings his infectious spirit and imagination to irrepressibly joyous, finely honed swing-era jazz standards.

Aug. 7 – Willy Street Chamber Players (below). Fun and sassy chamber music by one of Madison’s newest groups, bringing a fresh, imaginative take to classical music that is appealing to both lifelong classical music fans and newcomers to the genre. Expect some serious fun!

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

Aug. 21 –  Clocks in Motion (bel0w). Breaking down barriers of a traditional concert performance, this groundbreaking percussion ensemble serves up virtuosic performances that include theater and art and consistently offer a joyous entertainment experience.

Clocks in Motion Group Collage Spring 2015

Sept. 4 – Harmonious Wail. Smoldering vocals laced among jazzy mandolin and guitar, Harmonious Wail offers an infectious blend of continental jazz, swing, gypsy music, and melodic vocals.

Sept. 18 – Paul Muench Quartet. Now firmly established in the Madison jazz scene, Paul Muench’s group offers up imaginative improvs and creative modern arrangements of timeless jazz standards.


Classical music: It’s Homecoming Weekend at the UW-Madison. But the classical music scenes doesn’t miss a beat. The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble performs the music of Telemann, Monteverdi and Corelli plus other less well-known composers on Saturday night. Plus, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opens its new season tonight at 8 with the Britten “Apollo” and Saint-Saens’ “Egyptian” Piano Concerto No. 5 plus Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – the best of all Fight Songs for Homecoming football

October 11, 2013
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A REMINDER: Going up against both the start of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s organ series and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Homecoming Weekend won’t be easy. But the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra shouldn’t be forgotten or dismissed. The WCO opens its new season tonight at 8 p.m in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater.

On the program, under the baton of the WCO’s longtime  music director Andrew Sewell and with guest piano soloist and synesthesiac Bryan Wallick (below and in the link to my Q&A) in his Madison debut, are Benjamin Britten’s “Apollo” and Camille Saint-Saens’ “Egyptian” Piano Concerto No. 5 plus Ludwig van Beethoven’s iconic Fifth Symphony –- the best of all possible classical Fight Songs for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Homecoming weekend (as you can hear in the popular YouTube video with over 17 million hits at the bottom). Talk about winners!

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/classical-music-qa-american-pianist-bryan-wallick-talks-his-synesthesia-and-about-his-season-opening-concert-this-friday-with-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-under-andrew-sewell/

Bryan Wallick mug

By Jacob Stockinger

It is Homecoming Weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison!!!

That mean Badger football and beer, and social gatherings and beer, and dinners out and beer.

But it also means some fine classical music.

The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below top) opens its new season tomorrow night, Saturday, October 12, at 8 p.m. in the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue (below bottom) at 300 East Gorham Street, in James Madison Park in downtown Madison on the shore of Lake Mendota.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble composite

Gates of Heaven

Tickets at the door are $15 ($10 for students). Feel free to bring your own chair or pillow to soften hard wooden pews.

For more information 608 238-5126 or visit www.wisconsinbaropque.org

Performers includes: UW School of Music alumnus Gerrod Pagenkopf, countertenor; UW professor Mimmi Fulmer, soprano; Consuelo Sañudo, mezzo-soprano; Theresa Koenig, recorder; Monica Steger, traverso, recorder; Brett Lipshutz, traverse; Eric Miller, viola da gamba; Anton TenWolde, baroque cello; and Max Yount, harpsichord and organ

Gerrod Pagenkopf

The program includes: Trio Sonata from “Tafelmusik,” TWV 42 DS, by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767); Two madrigals, “La giovinetta pianta” and “Vattene pur crudel” (both form Book 3) by Claudio Monteverdi (below, 1567–1643); the Sonata No. 2, Op. 2, by Benoît Guillemant (1746-1757); Three Madrigals from Claudio Monteverdi, “Occhi un tempo” (book 3), “Poi che del mio dolore (book 1), and “Lumi miei cari” (book 3); the Airs et Brunettes by Jacques-Martin Hotteterre (1674-1763); Sonata No. 3 for Recorder and Basso Continuo by Arcangelo Corelli; and “La Calisto,” Act 2, Scenes 1 and 2 by  Francesco Cavalli (1602 –1676).


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